Sorry City Spectacle

July 14, 1994

Baltimoreans are witnesses to a sorry spectacle, a power battle between Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and City Council President Mary Pat Clarke over who will succeed Jacqueline F. McLean as the comptroller.

The mayor is backing Councilwoman Iris Reeves so she can use the $53,000-a-year position to reap higher pension benefits when she ends her 12 years of service in the city government next

year. Ms. Clarke is supporting Councilman Lawrence A. Bell so he can enjoy the advantage of incumbency in the 1995 elections and strengthen her mayoral bid in the black community.

When the City Council meets tomorrow to select a successor to Ms. McLean, we strongly urge members to reject both Ms. Reeves and Mr. Bell and elect Acting Comptroller Shirley Williams to serve Ms. McLean's unexpired term. Doing otherwise would make council members tawdry accomplices in a petty power struggle which hurts the image of city government and underscores existing -- and growing -- public doubts about the necessity of having a comptroller at all.

Recent months have increasingly shown how the intense Schmoke-Clarke rivalry, combined with the blind ambition of several city council members for higher office, has produced a political atmosphere of scheming and angling which harms constructive governance. This could turn into virtual anarchy if Mr. Schmoke succeeds in strong-arming the council to elect his preferred candidate, or Ms. Clarke garners enough votes for hers.

Allegations against Ms. McLean were a blow to the municipal government's image of integrity. To elect her successor almost solely on the basis of political rivalry would be a further blow.

Ms. Williams has made it clear she does not want to stay in office beyond next year's election. She is the logical candidate to continue the work she has been performing since Dec. 20, when personal and legal problems surrounding corruption allegations forced Ms. McLean to take a leave of absence that has now turned into a resignation.

We are disappointed that Mayor Schmoke did not acknowledge the propriety of this course from the very start but instead got involved in promoting the Reeves candidacy to fatten her pension. Ms. Reeves further clouded her candidacy by directly involving herself in unethical efforts to influence Ms. McLean's // trial.

As for Mr. Bell, he appears to have made so many deals with politicians and labor unions that his boasts of independence are questionable. If he feels he is qualified to serve as the city's No. 3 elected official, he should seek the office in next year's elections without the benefit of incumbency.

Ms. Williams is the proper non-political compromise to fill Ms. McLean's term until voters can elect a permanent successor in November, 1995. For the good of city government, we urge the council to put personal politics aside until next year and place her in the comptroller's job.

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